Last December, after comedian Kevin Hart had been announced as the host of next years’ Oscars, he was criticized for his homophobic jokes and tweets. Some of these jokes were mean-spirited; he said someone’s profile looked like “a gay bill board for AIDS.” Others were downright violent, like when he said that if he ever found his son playing with a dollhouse, he’d break it over his head and say “stop that’s gay.”
While I’m no fan of Hart’s, I was wary of the Academy giving in to social media and ousting him, especially after James Gunn lost his job directing the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise following the rediscovery of inappropriate and long-deleted tweets. But when Hart took to Instagram with a widely-mocked “apology” video where he said he was “in love with the man I am becoming,” I gave up on him, and so did the Academy, who gave him an ultimatum: apologize or resign. He chose to resign.
As of this writing, the Oscars still do not have a host, but Hart is campaigning to get the job back. His first step was to sit down with Ellen DeGeneres on her daytime talk show for an interview. Appearing with one of the most powerful members of the LGBTQ community might have seemed like a step forward for Hart – but it has only made things worse.
The Problem with Hart’s “Apology”
When reporters first released their articles about Hart’s jokes last month, he admitted to Ellen DeGeneres that his first instinct was to ignore them because he had already addressed it. He was also disappointed that the articles didn’t highlight the fact that he’d been consistently apologizing for these jokes for the last ten years. “Nobody’s finding the apologies,” he said:
“I had to address it and apologize and say I understand what those words do and how they hurt. I understand why people would be upset, which is why I made the choice to not use them anymore. I don’t joke like that anymore because that was wrong. That was a guy that was just looking for laughs and it was stupid — I don’t do that anymore.”
To his credit, it was good to see Hart own up to his past mistakes, but it is hard to take him at face value. A Vulture article that asked, “Where Are Kevin Hart’s Past Apologies?” revealed that although Hart has claimed to “address” these criticisms or promised not to make jokes about homosexuality again, there is still no evidence that he has said “I’m sorry that I made these jokes that offended people,” or something similar to that effect.
As he did in the terrible Instagram video, Hart sought to put the onus on us for not accepting that he has changed, rather than looking inward and asking why he thought these were topics worth joking about at all. His defensiveness only re-enforces his belief that he was the victim in all this – one which Ellen DeGeneres played right into.
How Ellen Indulged Hart’s Victimhood
Ellen DeGeneres has done much good for advancing gay rights and gay representation, including being the first openly gay Oscar host. But she is not immune to criticism, and her defense of Hart, while sincere, was a grave miscalculation.
“As a gay person, I am sensitive to all that,” she said of Hart’s homophobia. “You’ve already expressed that it’s not being educated on the subject, not realizing how dangerous those words are, not realizing how many kids are killed for being gay or beaten up every day.” All this is fine, but then she added:
“For you to be the bigger man, for you to say ‘I understand,’ and to not pay attention, there are so many haters out there. Whatever’s going on on the internet, don’t pay attention to them. that’s a small group of people being very, very loud. We are a huge group of people who love you, and want to see you host the Oscars.”
By framing the debate as Hart vs. the Internet Trolls, DeGeneres is providing Hart with a convenient excuse for not grappling with his homophobia, and casting his critics as Social Justice Warriors who lash out at anything and anyone they do not like. She should know better than to indulge a conspiracy theory that distorts what really happened to give Hart a comeback. There were no “haters” going after Kevin Hart. There were just concerned LGBTQ people and allies like myself who thought that it would not be a good idea to have an Oscar host with a long history of homophobia.
Hart is the Wrong Host for This Year
The Oscars have a sacred place in gay culture for their fashion triumphs and disasters, their musical performances, and the fact that they often hire openly gay producers and writers to put on the show. Because of this, they are sometimes referred to as “the gay Super Bowl.” But this year’s Oscars are different because they will likely nominate and award a number of films with LGBTQ themes and characters.
Best Picture front-runner A Star is Born features a non-judgmental depiction of drag queens – a rarity in major studio films. The two leading candidates for Best Supporting Actor this year, Mahershala Ali and Richard E. Grant, play gay characters in their films Green Book and Can You Ever Forgive Me? And The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos’s film about a lesbian love triangle in 18th century England, is one of the great queer films of recent years. Making Hart the emcee would undermine the strides the Academy has made towards both the diversity of its voters and the types of films they award.
And, unlike in the James Gunn incident, there was no concerted effort to dredge up Hart’s homophobic comments to fire him. They were never deleted from his Twitter and anyone could have found them by just typing in “KevinHart4real” and “gay.” This was out in the open for anyone to see, and had been talked about for years. For Hart to depict himself as the victim of a concerted effort to bring him down is a PR narrative that ignores the legitimate criticisms he has received.
Hart still wants the job, and DeGeneres even admitted to calling the Academy on his behalf after he left. If he properly atones for his homophobia, I would have no problem with him hosting the Oscars – but it would have to be a few years from now. As long as he is still this defensive, he cannot host this years’ awards, and his interview demonstrates that he still has a long way to go before he can reach a place of reconciliation with the community he has offended for so long.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.